A television commercial recently informed me that the Life Savers company is giving serious consideration to dropping pineapple, one of the original flavors in its 87-year-old Five Flavor roll (the others, of course, are cherry, orange, lemon and lime), in favor of watermelon or strawberry. The venerable but hip candymaker branded pineapple "not Y2K compliant," and launched a referendum on the subject of ditching the fusty flavor on its Web site.
I was astonished to hear this news, because it was in 1958, some 41 years ago, that I first sounded a clarion call for abandoning pineapple. I was a candy visionary, a sweetmeat seer. Who knew?
For the record, and the benefit of those Gen-X marketers at Life Savers who weren't yet born when I led the charge, here's the story.
A hoary axiom about law school states: "The first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, the third year they bore you to death." I was bored to death one spring day in 1958, my third year of law school, when my roommate idly picked up a roll of Life Savers from my desk, carefully removed the pineapple candy from the top of the roll, and popped the next flavor into his mouth. I cursed him mildly. He sank into a chair and directed some thoughtful vituperation at the ancestry of the vice president who had decided to include pineapple in the assortment. I joined in his paean of disdain, heaping obloquy upon the taste and general appearance of the vile pineapple.
Caught up in the spirit of the thing, I grabbed a pen and dashed off a postcard to Beech-Nut Life Savers Inc., in Port Chester, N.Y. I summarized the conversation with my roommate, indicating just how pauperish the pineapple seemed in the otherwise princely assortment of flavors, and implying that we represented a syndicate of Life Savers fans bent on seeing pineapple expunged from the roll.
A week later, I received from B.E. Moloney, of the sales department of Beech-Nut Life Savers, a response that I have recently unearthed from the Ries family archives. In four elaborate paragraphs, Mr. Moloney expressed his sorrow that pineapple did not meet "with your entire satisfaction" and (twice) his "appreciation for your fine interest." The most substantive comment read as follows:
"We realize, of course, that many things that appeal to one person will have just the opposite effect on another. That is why we have so many flavors in our line. We feel sure you would be amazed to know how many letters we receive from our consumer friends like yourself, asking why we do not market our PINEAPPLE flavor in a straight 5 [!] cent roll. We mention this merely for the purpose of substantiating our foregoing statement."
But his final paragraph brought some balm: The company was forwarding a "complimentary box of Life Savers which we trust you and your friends will enjoy." And sure enough, within the week, I received a handsome carton of 24 rolls of Life Savers.
I evidently had very little going on in my life at that time. Shortly thereafter, over the perfervid remonstrations of my roommate, who thought my mind was snapping, I posted the following message to poor Moloney, in a severe test of his public relations fortitude:
"While I am greatly appreciative of your gift, I find that I am not completely satisfied with your answer to my first letter. The very fact that you do not market an all-PINEAPPLE roll signifies that the flavor is not as popular as you would have me believe. I have been conducting a poll at stores in the neighborhood for the past five days, and 48 out of 54 people purchasing assorted Life Savers have informed me that the PINEAPPLE is distasteful to them, and that they would vote for a change. I wholeheartedly concur. May I suggest BANANA?"
Those who think that Moloney's stiff upper lip might have collapsed under this churlish, seemingly mad assault don't know Moloney. He stifled the understandable impulse to advise me just where to place my BANANA suggestion. Instead, he promptly fired back a reply, stating his "pleasure to acknowledge your more recent letter," and welcoming my "fine enthusiasm" as evidenced by "the recent poll you conducted among your friends and associates." He earnestly addressed the concept of a banana-flavored Life Saver:
"While we are aware of the fact that this would be a reasonably popular flavor in many areas, past experience has proven that such a flavor would not be accepted on a national basis. You can readily understand how we can market and sell only a limited number of flavors which we can place on the retailers' counters, as their space for displays is also limited for various products they carry and we must of necessity include in our line of flavors those with the greatest turnover and sales potential."
In closing, the bedeviled but plucky Moloney again offered his "sincere thanks" for my interest in the product. To my great disappointment, he did not send along another box of Life Savers, on which my roommate and I were running low by that time.
It thus was a short but, um, sweet relationship I had with Beech-Nut Life Savers, Inc., and the gallant trooper B.E. Moloney. No more correspondence, not even a Christmas card, passed between us. I turned to more pressing matters, like growing up.
So you can imagine my surprise when, more than 40 years later, the proposed purgation of pineapple came to my attention. Now I am left to consider the appropriate posture for me to take at this watershed moment.
Greater figures than I have realized that mere temporal rewards--even carloads of confections--pale into insignificance next to the one truly satisfying prize: historical recognition. Accordingly, I ask for no medal, no parade, no joint session of Congress, no biography in which Edmund Morris purports to have been present at that first dissing of pineapple candy.
I seek only the eternal acknowledgment given to other prophets: that I was the first to have the vision. So let the word go forth from this time and place to those Life Savers Wunderkinder who think they've had a smashing idea: You're 40 years late, kids.